There’s a movement afloat. And that movement is about revealing whatever struggles you’re having mentally and emotionally. Celebrities are coming out and talking about everything from postpartum depression to panic attacks. Yet those who experience Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD)® may be the last to join that bandwagon. Their whole existence is geared toward hiding vulnerability and attempting to create a perfect-looking existence.
Yet there are people trying to do just that. Come forward. Be honest about who they are, and what they’ve experienced.
So what’s going on? We are drawn to watch immensely popular shows like “This Is Us” which show distinct ways our childhoods form our identities — as well as insecurities and actual mental and emotional problems we all hide. But we still hang back, not wanting to appear overly vulnerable. Yes, we watch the show. We see ourselves in its characters.
But we can still fear prejudice against mental illness.
This Is My Brave…
One woman, Jennifer Marshall, is trying to address just that. She’s begun a nationwide program that features people with mental illness, performing poetry, songs or personal stories of their reality with an audience. She calls it “This Is My Brave,” and its programs are drawing crowds from large cities to smaller towns.
People are hearing and seeing their neighbor, someone they sit by in church, their lawyer, their hairdresser — speak openly about the mental and emotional issues they cope with every day. Whether it’s hearing voices, dealing with mood swings, having the obsession to count everything in fours, germ phobias, or nightmares of past trauma, people with mental illness cope. Their resilience can be phenomenal. Many seek treatment, and manage what, for many, are chronic problems, using medication, therapy, meditation, trauma work, exercise — whatever helps to keep them stable.
It’s confronting prejudice right where it lives, and offering education instead. She’s doing some important research with Kristin Kosyluk, demonstrating that these programs actually can broaden the audience’s understanding and acceptance of mental illness.
Perhaps, one by one, people will come forward.
My own reveal…
Last year, I decided I would act on what I believe, what I say everyday to patients — that there’s no shame in mental illness. I got on a stage last year for Northwest Arkansas’ “This Is My Brave,” and revealed my own struggle with panic disorder.
I’d already written about having panic on my website. I’d told the story about being accosted by my psychiatrist’s very curious receptionist about why I was seeking therapy. I’d blogged about my panic emerging, and how I’d fought the realization that I had a mental illness. I’d revealed that panic can still cause me to tremble and shake at unexpected times. It happened at my mom’s funeral as I followed her casket down the middle aisle of the church. (I’d rationalized that people thought I was distraught and that was the reason I could barely walk.)
I’d imagined that talking about it in a speech would be a breeze.
Yet in rehearsal, when these words started to come out of my mouth, my voice was suddenly jerky and I stopped breathing.
“Perhaps if you’ve ever talked with me one on one, you may notice that I often lean against the wall, or steady myself with a chair. That’s my anxiety.”
I felt exposed. I was letting out a secret. I was choosing to allow people into my real world, the world behind the persona I create. I was handing over the keys to my hiding place, to anyone who might be interested enough to go in and take a peek.
But it wasn’t over yet.
“Anxiety was invading my life. I didn’t mind so much the panic itself. It was the shaking. I hated that my anxiety, my vulnerability, showed.”
I was being totally honest. And I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite as vulnerable as in that moment. Not only was I revealing I had a mental health issue, but that it remained uncomfortable and painful. I was telling people that they could see it if they looked.
Looking back, it was important. It was gratifying. It was what I needed and had to do. If those with PHD or anyone else with mental illness. need encouragement to reveal their struggles, then I would choose to model that choice for them.
My own life… my own panic…
Here’s my story. Maybe it will help you.
For all who choose to come forward, who risk experiencing the prejudice that still exists, thank you.
For those of you who may still be hiding, who may be carefully maintaining a wall between yourself and whatever pain you know is there, who may struggle with PHD, realize there is another way.
If you would like to take a questionnaire to see if you identify with PHD, click here.